Evolution works in mysterious ways. The animals we see swimming in the oceans and grazing on the lands are far different today than what they were 50 million years ago. Scientists have proved that fact once again as they recently came across a stellar discovery—human-like fingers hidden inside of a beak whale’s flippers! What a find.
Whales have fingers too!
Earlier this month, a deceased beak whale had washed ashore and Dr. Mark D Scherz, an assistant professor of vertebrate zoology & curator of herpetology at Statens Naturhistoriske Museum in Denmark, had the chance to dissect the marine mammal. When he was working with the flipper, he pulled back some flesh and found appendages that strangely resembled fingers. He posted the photos on Twitter and said:
This is what it looks like when you remove the inter-digital flesh from a whale's flipper.
Amazing to see how well the pentadactyl limb is retained!
In the photos you can see a limb that very much resembles a hand with five fingers. It was further dissected and cleaned up by other members of the team, and the finished results were shocking.
Scherz admitted that it was the first time he too was seeing the flippers presented in this way. He said when replying to a comment:
I also had never seen them articulated in a way that conveyed how finger-y they really are.
Evolution of the whale
When in conversation with IFL Science, the researcher explained that ‘flippers have evolved repeatedly in various lineages of mammals and reptiles, each time in a different way.’ He added:
The fundamental structure is the pentadactyl limb, but the specific structure [of the limbs] differ very strongly.
According to Whales and Dolphins Conservation (WDC), whales first evolved from four-legged land dwellers that experts believe resembled deers. The most-prevalent theory is that these animals used to eat by the water’s edge and hide in the water when they sensed danger. The more time they spent in the water, the more their body adjusted to their new environment. WDC said:
Over time their descendants spent more and more time in the water and their bodies became adapted for swimming. Their front legs became flippers and a thick layer of fat called blubber replaced their fur coats to keep them warm and streamlined.
Eventually, their tails became bigger and stronger for powerful swimming and their back legs shrunk. Gradually, their nostrils moved to the top of their heads so that they could breathe easily without the need to tilt their heads while swimming.
As some of these creatures began to feed on a different diet, they evolved into baleen filter feeders and lost their teeth.